Britain's educational system is somewhat different from that of the United States.
For a start, uniforms are obligatory in nearly all schools (although variations are allowed in many for religious reasons), with different uniforms for each school, which is useful for identifying troublemakers on the buses - state-run schools don't usually use their own transport to pick up students. The general rules for these are:
- Skirts must reach the knee, not be above.
- Shirts are to be tucked in and top button done up.
- Earrings are only allowed for girls and must be one stud per ear.
- Ties are to be a decent length and, if appropriate, have the logo showing.
Of course, the number of kids who actually keep these rules is rather low. Uniforms usually cease to become compulsory after 16 unless you go to a really posh college. Or if you live in Scotland. Then they're generally compulsory until you finish up secondary school.
England and Wales have one system, but Scotland and Northern Ireland are somewhat different.
England and Wales
Compulsory schooling starts at 5 years old, but most children will attend Reception classes from age 4 and will have been to pre-school/playgroup/nursery which is partially government funded after they reach 3. After one year in Reception, they enter Year 1 (quick guide for those wanting to translate into the US grade system: US grade = UK grade - 1note ).
After two or three years in what is called Infant School or Keystage 1, children will move up to Junior School, or Keystage 2. Often these schools will be in the same building and joined into a single Primary School. Standardised testing used to happen at the end of year 2 and year 6 but these are being phased out. They are called SATs, by the way, so (Americans) if someone British tells you that their grades were all 5 in their SATs aged 10 then they're smart, but not University smart.
Then children are required to attend Secondary School. Parents will try to get said children into the best school (often a church school, which unlike in the US are mostly state schools). This allows for some comparison between schools and a sort of competition between them. Many good schools are highly oversubscribed. Some school admission to these requires proof that you live within a certain area as in places like London each school has a catchment area where it can only accept students from, similar to a US school district. Some may claim to live at a Grandparents' or half a mile down the road in order to get in. This isn't the case for places that aren't completely packed with schools, but there are some exceptions. Many church schools now will accept anyone and so are decreasing in standards. The best schools are still mostly state schools, and are Grammar schools. Unlike Boarding schools, public schools, or other state schools, you need to sit and pass the 11+ Exams to get in. They are the most oversubscribed schools, often with over 20 students competing for each place. Most often it is the number of students with the highest marks who get in, but in the odd school there are geographical catchment areas, with those living closest only having to pass the exam and those living further away having to gain nearly full marks to get in. This does create a dissonance as those from further away will, logically, be more intelligent than many who live across the street. Many are gaining Academy status so as not to be closed under the new government scheme to cut down on the number of Grammar schools.
At the end of Year 9, pupils also used to take the Key Stage Three SATs, which again were solely for league table purposes. These exams were abolished after a huge marking problem in 2008. Instead, many students start studying for their GCSEs.
Pupils then go on to doing General Certificates of Secondary Education, or GCSEs (formerly known as O-Levels - there's a Harry Potter reference to these in the "OWLs"). These tests are done over two years (it is possible to do them in one) and these do count, very much. They affect your chances of going on further and your job prospects. Most pupils take between 8 and 14 depending on what kind of school they go to (private schools and grammar schools do more, other state schools do fewer - not true, a lot of state schools want students to get as many as possible, although sometimes in "easier" subjects, since that's what will show up on league tables. Private schools are more likely to get pupils to do fewer subjects in more depth, or often to different exams or not bother sitting exams at all at this stage in subjects like ICT or Music where the GCSEs can be basically irrelavent to what is needed for life or further study). The "pass" mark (and the one the media focuses on) is 5 A*-C grades. There are further GCSE grades going down all the way to G (an outright fail is labelled "U" for "Ungraded"), but a D grade or below is usually regarded as effectively the same as totally failing the course, and getting below a C in English, Maths and/or Science can be the kiss of death to your career prospects. Students can also do more vocational qualifications (Usually known as NVQs or BTECs) if they aren't as academically inclined, although the fact that many of them count towards league table results causes many schools to 'nudge' students who may not be suited for them into taking them in order to get better results on paper.
This is, of course, unless you happen to live in one of the local authority areas, such as Bedfordshire, Northumberland, Worcestershire, the Isle of Wight, Leicestershire or Poole, which introduced Middle Schools in the 70s and 80s. In these areas, someone will attend first a primary school, then a middle school, then a high school. The age ranges of each institution differ depending on where you happen to be, and there are also two types of middle schools, primary and secondary. Some other areas that used to have middle schools still call their secondary schools 'high schools'. Luckily, Britain is Only London so you don't have to worry about all that. The middle schools have all but entirely closed in an attempt to keep all school leagues at the same level.
Education is now compulsory until 18, and many pupils who pass go to a Sixth Form or a College and later University, nicknamed "Uni", or choose to do an apprenticeship. A sixth form will be part of a school, a college is usually a separate establishment - they are technically the same except you can't study apprenticeships at a VIth Form. The name "Sixth Form" derives from the fact that Years 7-11 used to be, and in some places still are, called First to Fifth Years, with 'Form' the diminutive (there are still forms, but there are now multiple in a year instead of being the equivalent). Years 12 and 13 used to be called Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth, and these terms are still used in certain schools. Most students will do 4 subjects in the first year and 3 in the second, but some higher achieving students may be encouraged to take 5 then 4, and students with 7 or more A Levels are rare but not unheard of. The pre-requisite for A-levels is usually 12 points from your best 8 GCSEs, which is the equivalent of 4 Bs and 4 Cs, but most places will want you to get a B or above in the subject areas you're carrying on to A Level as they're harder. The grades themselves are decided by UMS points (magic maths turns your exam marks into a random number, hopefully at least 70) so why the education system doesn't just set a UMS minimum we don't know. Some University offers, it's worth noting, are based solely on these points (which also appear at GCSE but only Oxford care about them) so volunteer or other projects are undertaken by students in order to gain more.
Uniforms disappear, cease to be obligatory or becomes considerably more relaxed. As a rule, separate colleges are more relaxed about appearance and attendance, whilst Sixth Forms attached to secondaries have less tolerance, because the older students should be setting an example. Students also lose a bit of their sanity. Dress codes are often still more strict in all colleges than in American schools.
During Year 13, pupils start applying to universities via a body called UCAS. Qualifications are assigned 'UCAS points' based on their grade and weight; generally low-end universities will make offers like '100 UCAS points' whereas high-end universities will want specific subject grades like AAB. Different universities have different requirements. You can apply to fivenote and will have to whittle down your offers to a first choice and an insurance place. If you are applying for medicine, veterinary medicine, or dentistry, you may only choose four universities, however you may choose a fifth to apply for a non-medical subject (typically something like Biochemistry). Also, a student may only apply to one of either Oxford or Cambridge (with a few exceptions: mature students, post-graduates, and potential organ scholars can apply to both). Medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, and Oxbridge applicants are required to apply early because of the more intensive admissions process. Cambridge is the top University in the world, and Oxford comes in third after Harvard, so this is expected.
Should you fail to reach the requirements for either of your choices or choose to turn down all your offers, you may choose to go through "Clearing" - applying for any places that are left (advertised on-line or in the press). This was the subject of much contention in 2010, due to the sheer numbers of student applications made that year. A similar system called UCAS Extra exists for students who get turned down by every single university they apply to, and allows them to find course places between February and July, before the main Clearing rush (though if your application fails that dismally, it's often a better idea to bite the bullet and start a new set of A-Levels the following September). You can retake A-Levels at the same Sixth Form/ College for free the year after you leave (18-19 year olds) but if you plan on doing them again you have to pay and generally have to go someplace else to do them. This is changing, the government don't want to pay anymore, but aren't even offering the chance to resist if the student pays except in exceptional circumstances: the same for re-sitting the first year of college, too. This and the harder A-Level courses are turning people further off them.
University degrees are usually three or four (if you study out) years. The first year often only counts in allowing you to do the other two or three. The completion of a degree course is usually the only time a typical Briton attends a graduation ceremony. Most schools and sixth form colleges simply don't have them. For UK students, a degree at an English university currently costs £9,000 a year; however, this is not paid for upfront by the student or his or her family; rather the government Student Loans Company pays this, and the student only begins to pay off the debt after he or she is earning over £21,000 p.a. This money is taken away beforehand like taxes and stuff, so you never really know it's gone (or that you had it in the first place). In addition, the SLC provides Living Costs loans and grants. It used to be free to study in Scotland, but the laws have changed so St. Andrew's isn't as popular anymore.
More and more Universities are becoming Americanised. The Brits may claim to hate everything that Eagleland embodies, but they really do love this new trend. Like being called "colleges", having 'proper' campuses, offering Liberal Arts (whatever it is...no one is really too sure). Not that British Universities aren't fun, they just are typically very academically oriented and students are expected to entertain themselves. (Entertainment in this case pretty much translating to 'getting drunk in a pub instead of at Frat parties')
Scotland's education system differs from that of its fellow UK members. Uniform policy and compulsory schooling age (5-16, although at the time of writing the UK government is considering raising this to 18) remain the same, but the division of the system is different. The country generally prides itself on its traditions of a separate system and the provision of public education long before Parliament made it obligatory in 19th century.
Before compulsory education comes nursery school, which can either be public or private, with public ones usually being attached to a school. Kids can start from the age of three and stay for a morning or afternoon session or sometimes both. It's a mixture of playing and basic teaching with stuff like storytime and songtime so they can learn letters, numbers and colours as well as traditional toys and stuff that kids can't get at home such as sand and water pits. An alternative or precursor to nursery is playgroup, which is the same except for the fact that parents take part with their children on a rota, so they join their kids for some sessions and not others, helping them to cope with any separation anxiety they might have. Prior even to this are baby classes that usually start from 18 months and up and are held at sports or community centres. These have replaced "Mother and Toddler" groups which were similar to playgroups except more age-appropriate. Their successors were created with kids in mind but their real purpose is giving frazzled parents a chance to get out of the house and take a break for a few hours.
Primary school consists of seven years, with the classes labelled Primary 1 (four-and-a-half to five years old at the start of the year) to Primary 7 (11-12 years old, although for the youngest in the year group it's 10-11). They have one teacher for the entire year, and nearly all subjects will be taught by her/him. Teachers are addressed as Mr./Mrs./Miss./Ms., sometimes with the surname appended. They stay in one classroom for the whole school day. However, some specialist teachers may come in for subjects like Art and Music or they may go to another room for a subject like IT, but this varies from school to school. National Tests are sat throughout Primary school, but, like the Key Stage Two tests, they have no bearing on future education. At the end of Primary 7, the child moves up to Secondary school.
Secondary school re-labels the classes, which are now known as either "X-year" or Secondary X (frequently shortened to SX) - the youngest class is S1 (12-13 years old), the oldest is S6 (17-18 years old). (It's worth noting that the younger members of any given year group will start S1 at 11 and S6 at 16, finishing secondary school at 17. This is due to the age divide occurring at the end of February. For example, those that started P1 in 2000 include those born in January and February of 1996, as well as the majority of those born in 1995.) This is when classes are divided according to subject, and students must move from class to class. Pupils attend a wide variety of classes in First and Second Year. At the end of second year, this is narrowed down to eight subjects; three of which are compulsory (English, Maths and another language) and five chosen by the student, although these usually have to fulfill certain criteria that vary from school to school: e.g. the student's choice of one of the three science (Biology, Chemistry and Physics, although some may take combined Science - this is called Access 3, which is basically a rehash of first and second year science) and the three social sciences (Geography, History and Modern Studies) At this point, classes will be split into ability levels: Credit, General and Foundation. These eight classes will be attended from Third to Fourth Year, and at the end of Fourth year, the Standard Grade exams will take place.
The level of success attained in these exams pretty much dictates the pupil's options in Fifth Year. Unlike the A-F grading system used both elsewhere and in the Higher examinations, Standard Grades are marked 1-7, with 1 being the best mark and 6 being the worst pass — the lowest possible mark, a 7, is a fail. Grades 1 and 2 are credit, and 3 and 4 are general, so if you sit a Credit test, 100% is a 1 and the lowest pass is a 6, whereas in a foundation exam you're a 5 or you're a 6. Generally, the papers are graded 50%< fail, 50% low pass and 70% good pass - e.g. at Credit, 50% is a 2 and 70% is a 1. Standard Grades are in the process being scrapped, mostly because teachers feel that they are not relevant enough to further qualifications, and are being replaced with the Curriculum for Excellence, which offers crossover between subjects (such as using rulers in Art or colour in Physics, for example. The final grade is compiled from two separate grades derived from the exam paper - K/U (Knowledge and Understanding) and PS (Problem Solving). K/U questions are simple ("What is an alkene?") and PS requires logic ("Identify a hydrocarbon which desaturates quickly in bromine solution."), the values of which are rounded up - a pupil who gets a 1/2 will achieve a 1, a pupil who achieves a 2/4 will get a three, etc. This can be important at Higher - for example, some schools will only let pupils enter difficult courses with a 1/1 mark, not letting 1/2 or 2/1 students take the course although officially they all count as the same grade. Some schools are opting for Intermediate 1 and 2, courses which are modelled on the Higher formats and course material so kids have less difficulty when it comes to sitting them in S5 and 6. Intermediate 1 is about General level, whereas Intermediate 2 is just beyond credit level. If students are struggling at Credit, they are asked to consider Int 1 as it ranks higher than General, and if they are struggling at Higher they can take Int 2. Holyrood is considering getting rid of both of these and creating something entirely new instead. To put it simply: Access 3 < Foundation < General < Intermediate 1 < Credit < Intermediate 2 < Higher < Advanced Higher.
- Some Scottish schools now begin the Standard Grade and Intermediate courses in S2 instead of S3, the Highers beginning a year early also but still ending at S5, making it a 2 year course.
In Fifth Year, most students take five subjects (although the less academic are allowed to take fewer or sit them over two years and some schools allow the most academic students to take six) and the Higher Still system comes into play. Strong performance in the Standard Grade level of a subject enables the student to take the Higher course, moderately good performance puts them into Intermediate level, while weak performance puts them into Access. (Note: this is determined not only by the student's grade in the exam, but what level of exam they sat — for example, it is extremely unlikely that a Foundation student would get into a Higher class, no matter how well they did on the Foundation level test). English, a foreign language and Maths are no longer compulsory, leaving all five classes for the students choose themselves. In general, Highers are considered much harder than Standard Grade/Intermediates in proportion to age and the ability required. If the pupil wants to stay on until Sixth year, they can either "upgrade" their existing qualification (for example, an Intermediate student takes the Higher course, while a Higher student qualifies for the Advanced Higher course) or take an entirely different subject (a student who had to drop a subject in Standard Grade might decide to pick it back up in Sixth Year). If you get a bad mark in a Higher paper in 5th year, you can choose to retake the course in 6th year - however, the value of the grade decreases (an A at 5th year is a better mark than an A at second sitting). The curriculum of the Advanced Higher is similar to the work covered in the first year of university, in regards to a certain degree's subject, much so that students who achieve an A are allow to skip ahead to the second year of that degree's course if they wish (sometimes).
Exams start in May and finish in early June. During this time, S4-6 go on study leave. Basically, they are off school for a whole month to cram and only have to put in appearances for the actual exams: whose times are standardized across the country to prevent cheating, with a few exceptions such Art practical exams, but can come in if they want to ask for help or just to get out of the house. The papers themselves last about an hour and a half on average at Standard Grade/Intermediate levels and about 2 hours at Higher. Some, such as Maths and Chemistry are straightforward and easy as long as you know what you are doing. Others, such as History and English, have an extremely specific exam technique which can make the subject twice as hard. The subjects with the lowest percentage of Credit Grade 1 students achieving an A at Higher in the same subjects are Maths and Chemistry. Prelims are taken around Christmas/Easter to be used as evidence if the pupil fails to turn up or or just does badly in their final exam, and although it's not compulsory for schools to give exam leave, most do.
Students can leave school whenever they turn 16, so Fifth and Sixth year classes are usually smaller than Fourth Year and younger. However, to gain entry into university, the Higher level of qualifications are required. If you wish to attend University but lack the proper Higher qualifications, the normal course is to get a Higher National Certificate (HNC) at a College in the relevant subject (there is also the more advanced Higher National Diploma (HND), which can sometimes get you into 2nd year University, but these are increasingly extinct); College, here, is basically High School for adults, perhaps slightly more advanced, and is not to be confused with University.
The UCAS system applies in Scotland — however, entry requirements are different. A-Levels are a more advanced qualification than Highers, so it's actually the Advanced Higher (available only in sixth year after passing the initial Highers) that are roughly equivalent to the A-Levels, except that they're to a slightly higher level, which leads to utter confusion and outrageous requirements when a Scottish student applies to an English university. So a student in England or Wales might need 3 "B" grades at A-Level to get into a course, while a Scottish student will probably need 3/4 "A" grades at Higher (or 2 "B"s at Advanced Higher) to get into that same course. It should be noted that Scottish University courses are a year longer than in the rest of the UK and so minimum entry requirements are concurrently lower, for example the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) has a minimum requirement of "BBC" at Higher to enter Physics, the equivalent grade for English applicants being "CD" at A-level.
Northern Ireland's system is again slightly different to the rest of the UK. Primary education begins in Primary 1 (4-5 year olds) and ends at Primary 7 (10-11 year olds). This is where it gets a bit hazy. In Northern Ireland, the system of distinct grammar and secondary schools is still completely operational throughout the country, unlike in the rest of the UK where it is (at most) much more muted.
Until 2010, a place at a grammar school could only be obtained by taking the official 11-plus exam (detailed below) in Primary 7, and getting whatever grade the school required. However, recent (and largely unpopular) attempts by a (now former) NI Education Minister to remove the grammar/secondary system resulted in the 11-plus exam being abolished.
Naturally though, many schools throughout the country didn't quite like the idea of not being allowed to screen potential pupils by academic ability, and so in a collective "up yours" to the then-Education Minister, most grammar schools simply went ahead and made their own standardised test to replace the 11-plus, which is now a necessity for any prospective grammar school pupil. The differences between the two are mainly in the matter of subjects taught - grammar schools opt for what would be regarded as "traditional academic" subjects, while secondary schools prefer to teach a variety of more "vocational" subjects instead, though nowadays this distinction is lessening, with many grammar schools bringing in vocational options, and many secondary schools allowing more academic choices. The main distinction is that secondary schools usually lack Sixth Forms.
Regardless of what school you proceed on to, second-level education starts with Year 8 (first form - 11/12 years old) and is compulsory up to the age of 16. In Year 12 (fifth form - 15/16 years old), pupils take GCSE exams in the same manner as England and Wales. Note though, that year numbers in Northern Ireland are one higher than they are in the English system, so England's Year 11 is Northern Ireland's Year 12. The ages for each "band" are still identical though (English Year 11 and Northern Irish Year 12 are still 15/16 year olds), making the whole thing just a bit confusing. This has no relation to what's being taught (the Irish aren't another year ahead), having basically the same academic structure as Great Britain.
Secondary schools typically stop at this point. Pupils here may then proceed to transfer to a grammar school if they wish to go on to study A Levels, or move on to college (colloquially known as "tech" in Northern Ireland after the original terminology of "technical school"), or just head out straight into employment.
Dedicated sixth form colleges, unlike England, don't really exist in Northern Ireland. Instead, Sixth Form basically forms the last two years of grammar school education, with Sixth Forms being a completely integrated (but also completely optional) part of the school, yet still usually distinct in some fashion, i.e. slight uniform changes.
In Year 13 (Lower Sixth), pupils study for anything between three and five AS Levels. Typically (unless already doing just three) one is then dropped when proceeding into Year 14 (Upper Sixth) to study for the full A Levels.
Like the rest of the UK, university applications are handled through the online UCAS system, and A Levels are treated in the exact same way for Northern Ireland as they are for England and Wales. However, Northern Ireland itself only has two universities, which somewhat limits the choice for those not comfortable going all the way over to Great Britain.
But, as a positive upshot of the whole Irish Question, prospective university students in Northern Ireland (depending on the school) usually have easy access to the CAO university applications system used in the Republic of Ireland, allowing many to apply for a university place there in addition to their UCAS choices.
The Eleven Plus: Understanding The Pre-1976 System
Between 1944 and 1976, the British schooling system was in three tiers. At eleven, all pupils took a test and were allocated into the tiers as per the results. There were different emphasises in each:
- Grammar Schools - intellectual subjects.
- Secondary Technical Schools - maths and science. Few built.
- Secondary Modern - practical subjects.
The secondary modern was seen as the bottom tier and there were elements of the class system involved. Falling into the Grammar School category did not guarantee you a place there, as there were often fewer places than there were people passing the exam. The Wilson governments took exception to the whole thing and finally abolished it in 1976.
The whole issue of selection remains a controversial one in the UK, with calls for its return and equal calls against. Some schools retained interviewing until recently, but can only now do it on religious grounds.
This system remains in some locations in Northern Ireland and parts of England, but it is voluntary, and it is illegal to found new grammar schools.
- Sort of voluntary. The "11+" exam itself is voluntary, but in most areas which retain grammar schools, there is a big difference in the quality of grammar schools and regular secondaries. In most areas, your local comprehensive is fairly average or pretty good (with some obvious exceptions). Where grammar schools exist, the local comps are usually abysmal and most parents would force their children into taking the 11+ in the hope their children wouldn't end up there.
The UK has as many school dinner jokes as the US, if not more ("dinner" here means "lunch", in accordance with British English). There is no requirement to have a school dinner. Those with low incomes can get money from the state to pay for them and kids get tickets handed out to them (the numbers who get this are logged in the league tables).
There was a recent controversy over school dinners being unhealthy. This led to a change in their content, and a backlash from some parents who passed fast food through school fences.
The common media perception before that was of peas that were harder than bullets among other things. Possibly related to the fact that the budget per person was 57p and the lowest in Europe.
This is less prevalent than it was, but many schools used to be single-sex only. They're still there, though. See St. Trinian's and Greyfriars for famous fictional examples. Most, if not all single-sex schools are private schools and as such produce the best results (See Eton, Harrow, etc). Some grammar schools are also single-sex. Rare in comprehensives (there's enough in the North that the students are dished out to nearly every unisex college around, though).
Equivalent to an American Parochial school, a faith school (loosely synonymous with "church school") is one linked with a specific religious organisation. Apart from slightly more emphasis on whichever belief the school is linked with, faith schools are required to follow the same curriculum as secular schools. Religious beliefs can be taught, but only in the context of religious education (which many schools with no religious affiliation do anyway). These schools are fairly controversial.
Any state school can apply to become a church school, which generally brings a little extra funding and a nicer sign. Faith schools generally have some extra funding from their affiliated religion of choice and faith secondary schools may collect a means-tested contribution from parents. Most faith schools prioritise places to those who can evidence that they are practising that faith (usually a letter from the appropriate community religious leader), they will then fill places with children who can evidence they practice any religion before leaving the remaining school places to children from families who practice no religion. For example a Catholic school will mostly have children from practicing Catholic families, but will also have children from Church of England families, Muslim Families, Sikh families etc.
A fairly recent invention, a Free School is an English school which is taxpayer-funded and free to attend, but is not under the direct control of the local authority and is set up by the people.
It is not possible to "drop out" of school before 16 (or if you do, you must end up in some form of education or training). If you, say, threw a pen at a teacher, you'd just have to find another school in the local area or elsewhere. Typically, the offence has to be more serious, no matter how snobby the teacher seems.
Privately funded schools can generally be much pickier, though many have developed a cunning racket of troublesome pupils being "asked to leave" with the understanding that they will be expelled if they refuse. Naturally, most people take this voluntary option. This allows private schools to avoid having to say that they have expelled people (looks bad, dontchaknow).
Other things of British school culture
- The Bike Sheds: The area where a handful of students who cycle to school lock their bikes on school property but is also a famous place where people a) smoke, b) get intimate (snogging or higher) or c) do them both (at once).
- Leaver's Service/Muck-Up: a religious service before people go off to revise (study) for their GCSE exams. This involves quite possibly the only time any girl who is not an adult will invoke Sexy Schoolwoman, much use of eggs, stink bombs, general pranks and sometimes the collective suspension of the entire year.
- Sports Day: More a primary school thing, it can be the source of some minor trauma and a lot of argument. The latter among the parents. However, some are just a bit of a laugh and a good way to leave early if you were lucky enough to get an adult belonging to you to come and watch. (UK state schools don't have the inter-school, or indeed inter-university sports scene to the same extent as the US).
- This is partly why Brits are so surprised by how Serious Business the Americans take school sports teams. School sports teams in the UK are funded mainly by the school, but do not attract outside sponsors, and are generally considered affairs of minor note but not exactly important at the end of the day. Also, basically the only major teams are football (soccer), rugby and in some areas cross-country running.
- The Cane: Withdrawn since the 1980s, the only place you'll see one these days is in a BDSM context. This was used to punish naughty pupils, sometimes in front of the whole school.
- The Scottish equivalent was the tawse, a fiendish leather strap with a split end. Ow.
- Other implements were used as well as the cane in English schools, notably the "slipper" (a gym shoe) or a strap (similar to the tawse but without the split end)
- The Teacher's Gowns: In the old days, you'd get teachers wearing their university gowns on Awards Day and sometimes in lessons. Even in the late seventies/early eighties some schools expected teachers to teach in their academic gowns, though most reserved them for ceremonies if they required teachers to have them at all.
- "John Smith" wears one in the Doctor Who episode "Human Nature".
- Some private schools still use them for assemblies and prize-giving ceremonies but very few for teaching. Nowadays they are totally unheard of in state schools (excepting some of the older grammar schools). In Scotland, however, if a fairly standard academy is a tolerable example, the Rector and Heads of Department (Masters) still wear gowns for prize-giving and services at Christmas.
- Several grammar (read: nice pretentious) schools retain them. A fun game is to attach the crocodile clips someone attached to your back in chemistry to the gown without the teacher noticing.
- There was a practical aspect to wearing a gown for teaching (which also applied to university lecturers): it helped to keep chalk dust off the clothes underneath.
- Some private schools in England are "public schools", all public schools are private schools, but there are a lot of private schools that aren't public schools. Public schools are old and were founded to educate the gentry. Those who have attended public schools get tetchy if you refer to all private schools as public schools, or if you refer to them. Also rather confusingly, some of them are called "colleges", even though they're schools.
- When public schools were being founded, the children of peers were generally still educated by tutors (a deal more expensive) and children were sent on to university at a much younger age (the ancient universities' undergraduate degrees are M As because, traditionally, one would receive one's BA at as young as fourteen.)
- This is only partly correct. The very old ones (Eton, Roedean etc) are public schools. All the other fee-paying schools are private schools. Except if they're for 16-18-year-olds only, or just think it sounds better, and then they're colleges. It's kind of something you just have to know.
- Specifically the Public Schools are those that send a delegate to an organisation called the Headmasters Conference (although Headmistresses have been admitted for years). This is a club for senior (age 11 or 13 to 18) schools only. Prior to that an independent school is often Prep (short for Preparatory) - age 7 to 11/13 or Pre-preparatory (often part of a Prep school) - for children younger than 7.
- The year structure, selection and examination and exams taken can vary wildly from those in the state sector.
- And are also highly selective, as in ''Quis paget entrat'' (who pays gets in).
- Really the public/private school distinction depends on who you ask. Roughly, the older, posher and more expensive a school is, the more likely it is to be a public school. Public schools educated the gentry and so had no entry requirements beyond money and status (though most are selective now), whilst private grammar schools evolved from the need to educate the clergy and had entry requirements. If you went to one of the schools named in the Public Schools Act 1868, they are the only public schools, even for people who went to schools founded 9 centuries before Eton.
- There is almost an (unwritten) tier system in place for positioning what people accept/call/claim as public schools which, linked with potential markers such as HMC headmaster, East India Club membership privileges or a tie on the wall of The Bear, can cause even more confusion and/or snobbery depending on what agenda is possessed by the person with whom you are speaking. Whilst it is (generally) accepted that Winchester, Eton, Harrow, King's Canterbury, Rugby and similar are the top tier and the older, more respected (depending on snobbery of course) Grammars are (sometimes) grudgingly allowed in the bottom one, where absolutely everyone else comes will probably entirely depend on whether you went to St Paul's, Charterhouse, Rodean, The Dragon/Malborough, Abingdon, Westminster, Ampleforth...
- Unless you're in Scotland, where they're all private schools, regardless of how old or prestigious they are. Or Northern Ireland, where they essentially don't exist.
- Northern Ireland has a few schools who send their heads to the Headmasters and Headmistresses' Conference. However, they are all grammar schools, as in, the government will pay for children to go there, rather than the parents. But they still get to be selective. There are only a handful of what is known under the catch-all term of 'independent schools' elsewhere in the UK. They're generally connected with some highly conservative religious groups, who seek freedom from the state curriculum, and have less than 1000 students at any one time (put together). They've nothing to do with what's thought of as 'public schools' in England.
- Outward Bound TM trips: An entire year group goes away on a residential trip, usually 4 or 5 days, with their teachers, round about Year 6/Primary 7 to do teambuilding things - rock climbing, abseiling, archery, swimming in freezing cold lakes, illicit midnight feasts - sort of a marriage of Scouting and Enid Blyton, minus some of the racism (depending on where you are...). All to fuse the class(es) as a proactive unit of independent yet cooperative students ready to take on the exciting new challenges of high school as well creating a whole host of happy childhood memories...
- School trips, besides an end of year excursion, all have to be subject-based. If they're further afield, they have to be passed by a board. Cue going to China and Italy for "geography" and America for "history" and, of course, the respective countries for "modern foreign languages" - memories of disgracing ancient monuments, skiing, and watching baseball spring to mind. Unfortunately, there are some teachers that abide by the rules and make trips at least partly educational, which really screws over the (majority) students that signed up because they wanted to leave Britain for a week and know nothing about the relevant subject.
- Prefects: Basically the British equivalent of Hall Monitors, typically Year 11s or Sixth Formers in the posher state schools and in private schools. Get a badge or, depending on the school, a cool robe or tie. Rarely exist in the rougher state schools, unless they're trying to be something they're not.
- Head Boy/Girl: Two senior students of some quality and respect that are chosen to represent the school, and set an example for the younger students. May or may not be in charge of the seemingly harmless School Council. Again, associated with posher state schools and private schools.
- The posh lot have a team of them, each assigned different jobs, which effectively run the show.
- School discos: A staple of school stories set in the '80s and '90s. Rather than the elegantly styled prom found in American schools, a British "School Disco" is an excruciatingly embarrassing event, chaperoned by teachers and with a bad DJ (sometimes the Headmaster, if no-one else can be found) blaring cheesy pop music. The ultimate horror is to have to be picked up by one's dad, or for him to come in and make his way to the dancefloor. These days most schools have a prom (although usually a modest one by American standards), so the trope is largely redundant.
- However, some schools do this for every year before a big break - Christmas discos, etc. They're typically the same thing but in a hall or something, rather than a booked venue.
- They're also just as grim.
- They exist mostly now at the end of primary school, when it's thought cool and so repeated at the end of the first year of high school, when everyone learns that it isn't. Occasional ones pop up for the novelty later on, the teachers thinking it's serious and trying to act cool whilst the teenagers take the absolute piss. Joke ones also exist for leaving years, amongst other wacky traditions.
- The School Formal is a special event similar to the American Prom, having been imported from the states. Typically it's regulated to those in Upper Form and studying their A-Levels. Unlike the American proms and UK discos, it's often a more formal affair consisting of only a single dinner at a venue in some cases, or a dinner and a dance. The real party is after when the formal students leave (expect a lot of underage drinking).
- OFSTED: The regulatory body for child services, which carries out regular school inspections, sending teachers into a complete panic every time. There is a four-point results system: 1 (Outstanding), 2 (Good), 3 (Requires improvement) and 4 (Inadequate). If a school is given a '4' in too many areas, it is put into 'special measures' to improve, and may be shut down.
- 3 used to be called "Adequate" until it was realised that nobody (schools or inspectors) considered it as such.
For a more in-depth discussion on British Higher Education, see British Unis.